The “Action Agenda for Improving America’s High Schools” outlines strategies states can take to ensure that high schoolers graduate ready for work or college.
Restore Value to the High School Diploma
• Postsecondary and business leaders should work with K-12 educators to verify that high school academic standards reflect the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in well-paying, entry-level jobs and in credit-bearing college and university courses.
• States should require all students to complete a common set of high school courses that provide that knowledge and those skills, including specifying the core content within the courses.
• State tests should reflect whether high school students are college- and work-ready.
Redesign High Schools
• States should redesign high schools to better serve all students, with a priority on reorganizing low-performing high schools first.
• States should provide incentives for all communities to expand their supply of high-quality high schools. for example, states can support charter school laws, provide innovation funds for the establishment of new schools, and expand opportunities for high school students to take college-level classes and earn college credit.
• States should ensure that students at risk of school failure receive the help they need. That means targeting time and resources to low-performing students during and after the school day, encouraging low-achieving students to take more challenging courses, and designing individual learning plans for at-risk students.
Give High School Students the Excellent Teachers and Principals They Need
• States need to help high school teachers upgrade their skills and knowledge in the subjects they teach, in part by changing teacher-licensing requirements and teacher-preparation programs and better targeting professional-development money.
• States should provide incentives to recruit and keep teachers where they are needed most: in subjects such as math, science, and special education, and in high poverty and low-performing schools.
• States and local education leaders should work together to define the role of the high school principal and cultivate the conditions that enable principals to be successful.
• Principals must be given the authority to make schoollevel personnel and budgeting decisions, and must be held accountable for results.
Set Goals, Measure Progress, and Hold High Schools and Colleges Accountable
• States need to improve their ability to collect, coordinate, and use secondary and postsecondary data.
• States need to use multiple indicators to evaluate high schools, including test scores, graduation rates, and the percent of graduates who enroll in higher education and need remedial classes once they get there.
• Every postsecondary institution should be required to report publicly how many entering students are enrolled in remedial courses, how many drop out after the first year of college, and how many ultimately complete a degree. States should provide financial incentives for institutions that show progress.
Streamline and Improve Education Governance
• At a minimum, states should set up a permanent statewide commission or roundtable to frame a common education agenda for pre-K-16 and track progress.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Taking Action